Dominant SEC win caps good week for Gators

Florida's Dorian Finney-Smith, left, celebrates with teammate Casey Prather after Finney-Smith was fouled on a basket against Texas A&M at the O'Connell Center on Saturday. The Gators topped the Aggies 69-36 to stay unbeaten (8-0) in conference play

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 8:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 11:30 p.m.

When the shot left his hands, the students were ready to explode. Had it finished at the bottom of the net, they might have stormed the court. It wasn’t that it would have won the game, but it was little Billy and they wanted him to hit a 3 to punctuate another blowout win so badly they tried to will the ball into the basket.

We’ve seen this before during this season, but never quite like this. Because when Billy Donovan the Younger saw his 3-point shot rim out, there were still four minutes remaining in the game.

This was an SEC game, mind you. It was over at the half and embarrassing for Texas A&M with 10 minutes to go. It was a blowout without glitz or ESPN highlights. Instead, it was a workmanlike destruction of a team that started conference play 3-0.

That seems so long ago.

“We’re not the No. 3 team in the country for no reason,” said birthday boy Patric Young.

Young, who turned in an inspired performance on the day he turned 22, summed up the afternoon perfectly with those words. The Gators might not win every SEC game and may not make it through the season without a home loss and may see their winning streak end.

But it wasn’t going to happen Saturday.

You take an offensively challenged team and put it up against one of the nation’s best defenses and you get the kind of awful numbers the Aggies put up in the O’Dome.

On a day when Florida was miserable from beyond the arc (5 of 25), it hardly mattered. The UF defense was again nearly impenetrable. When Billy Donovan the Older emptied his bench with more than six minutes to go, the Aggies had scored 26 points.

The “pursuit of greatness” that Donovan keeps hammering home to his players isn’t always about making shots, and Saturday was the perfect example. It was also the end of a pretty good week for Florida basketball.

The Gators won twice. The two teams in the closest pursuit in conference play (Kentucky and Ole Miss) each lost a game. And, of course, there was the good news about Chris Walker.

Savor it today, Gator Nation. Because it’s about to get real interesting.

Florida’s schedule is always back-loaded for one reason — Florida is an elite program with the second-best basketball brand in the conference. TV wants Florida to have big games after the Super Bowl when the populace is ready to turn its attention to pre-Madness.

So Florida is about to head into the part of its season that will determine whether this team will win the SEC. Missouri comes calling Tuesday. Of the next 10 games for the mighty Gators to close out the regular season, six are against teams in the top 56 in RPI. In other words, teams with something to play for more than pride.

To say Walker is arriving in the nick of time might seem unfair to a bunch of players who became only the third in Gator history to start a season 19-2. But the truth? The Gators would love to have the lottery pick Walker, but they’ll settle for five fouls and no mistakes.

This is a banged-up Gator team. Devon Walker didn’t play Saturday because of a hip-pointer. Casey Prather didn’t start because of an ankle injury. During the game, Scottie Wilbekin came up lame twice and had to leave the floor and Dorian Finney-Smith had to be taken to the locker room. Both of them returned to the game and there are no serious injuries.

But it’s nice to have a McDonald’s All-American suit up the rest of the way.

“We’ll see what he can give us,” Donovan said. “Another body would be good. It’s hard. You start to get into the dark days. You move from January to February, and we’re not even halfway through the conference season.”

Florida has spent the first eight games of the conference season illustrating just how mediocre this league is. The Gators have won their four SEC home games by an average of 24.3 points per game.

“Our league is not the best, but it’s a good league,” Young said. “We really don’t care. Just look at our record.”


Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at

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